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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/03/06 -- Vol. 24, No. 32, Whole Number 1320
Table of Contents
This week's MT VOID is brought to you by Nimwat Books, publishers of FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION: THE SEARCH FOR PERPETUAL MOTION by Phyllis Stein and Rosetta Stone.
X-treme Language (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Evelyn got a new kind of bread. It is called "Extreme Wheat Bread." Now most people would not give that a second thought. I am not most people. I am not sure what makes bread extreme. They show sweaty football players on the bag. Not a sight I like to look like over breakfast. That makes the bread experience not so much extreme as repugnant. I did notice that the bread seems to lead an unnatural life. This stuff can be weeks old and it still feels fresh. The other loaf of bread sitting next to it went stale very quickly. It, in fact, was a newer loaf of bread but it got older faster. And there were two funny holes in the neck of the wrapper. It is most mysterious. Meanwhile the extreme wheat bread stayed fresh and happy beyond its time. The loaf of bread gets kept in a breadbox that has a layer of dirt from the field where the wheat was grown. That keeps it fresh indefinitely.
I'm stretching the truth a little, of course, but I wonder what it really means to be such extreme wheat bread? Bakers have been making wheat bread for centuries, probably millennia. But until recently they have never gotten beyond simple wheatness. There is only so far you can go in wheatitude. But now there is extreme wheat bread. I am sure that if they do now have extreme wheat bread it is a sign either that science has gotten smarter or the consumer has gotten dumber. Now this new wheat bread is not just wheat bread but goes all the way to being extreme wheat bread. I think that the special wheatness controls at the bakery now go to eleven.
Correct me if I am wrong, but if you want really extreme wheat bread what you really want is matzoh. That is just wheat and water. You can't get much more extremely wheat than that unless you are simply going to shovel wheat flour into your mouth. If they really wanted to express extreme wheatness on the bread bag they should show guys in peyes and fur hats, not football helmets.
But this use of extreme seems less wheat than just all wheat. Now that I look at the label and the extreme wheat bread has in it other things like Pyridoxine Hydrochloride and Magnesium Oxide. I am sure these do all sorts of yummy things for the bread, but does any of it really increase the wheatness? Does it make it more extremely wheat? Or does putting the name extreme on it mean it will be less so? These are the people who have the wheatiest bread around.
I am reminded of when our book discussion group was reading Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN. Somebody bought and read a book whose title was MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN. That turned out to be a very different book. Simply calling the book FRANKENSTEIN helps to assure that it really is Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN, but calling it MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN guarantees that it is not Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN, but a novelization of a film script. Actually, in the book world MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN is less Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN than is FRANKENSTEIN. However, in the film world MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN is more Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN than is FRANKENSTEIN. But MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN is less Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN than is TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN. TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN really is very much Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN and deserves to be called MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN, but that was not what it was called. It was called VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN and then renamed for television. (I could not say that on the radio, and I am not sure it will make sense even here.)
Looking back at my loaf of bread I realized that I had not been honest with you. And I should always be honest. In actual fact the bread is not Extreme Wheat Bread. It is "X-treme Wheat Bread". That is not quite the same thing. These days if you misspell a word it is taken to mean that you are even more sincere about it than if you spelled it correctly. I think the idea is that the speaker is supposed to be a "homeboy" who is less intellectual and is therefore speaking more from the heart. Of course, the name homeboy is itself a misnomer. Most people who consider themselves homeboys are not really saying that they are people who tend to stay at home. Homeboy sounds like someone who is homely, in the original meaning of "homely." Homeboys are not noted to be people who sit in their homes on Saturday night with not much to do but watch the Sci-Fi Channel movie (which might indeed be MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN). This may be the image that the name "homeboy" conjures up, but it does not really fit most people who call themselves homeboys. At least that is my impression of Homeboy language. If my Homeboy is bad I'm moded. It would be def of you not to 86 me. My bad. [-mrl]
REVOLVER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: REVOLVER, written and directed by Guy Ritchie, comes off like Jim Thompson crossed with Philip K. Dick. It is hard to say if it will go better with a crime audience or a science fiction audience. Con games. Chess games. Mind games. They all mix in the hands of a villain you will not guess. This is a weird and unpredictable crime film, which is understating it. Ritchie regular Jason Statham and Ray Liotto star in a story of revenge, violence, and puzzles. I liked it, because of the audacious solution, but I suspect that not many other people will agree. Sam Gold is for me the new Keyser Soze. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Would you give everything you have to get everything you want for three days? That is the question that Mr. Green (played by Jason Statham) must decide. Just out of seven years in prison he wants retribution on the men who had cheated him. He has gone back to his old haunts to get his revenge, but it is just not working. That is it is not working until two men offer to help him in return for everything he has. Normally that would not be such a great deal. But these two men seem infallible. They seem to have a supernatural knowledge of the future. They are not just infallible; they also seem to be able to bend reality to do anything they need to do. But is it still not a good enough deal? How about after Mr. Green finds out he will die in three days anyway from a rare blood disease? His own independent doctor confirms he is dying. Now the strange offer starts to make sense. Maybe it does. But what is really going on? Is what appears on the surface real? It can't be. Mr. Green does not know whom to trust. And I seriously doubt that any first time viewer is going to guess what is going on either.
In SNATCH and LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, Guy Ritchie gave us two crime films that were fast-paced and witty. But they also were a little weird and most of the public seemed to like it. REVOLVER is a whole lot weird and I strongly suspect that Ritchie is going to be disappointing those who like his crime films but who will not take to the reality bending.
This is a very tricky mystery with a heavy dose of philosophy and not a little fantasy. Ritchie has some strange touches like suddenly going to anime. There are little quotes at the beginning. Mark them well. They turn out not to be just lessons learned, but integral parts of the film.
REVOLVER is getting a lot of bad reviews. Perhaps most people will not be open to the weirdness of this film and of the solution of the puzzle. It was in front of me all the time, and I never suspected it. I don't think most people will. Okay, I am going to rate this film high, but that is not the same thing as a recommendation. This is a film for a narrow audience. I am not sure I understand the whole thing. When it comes out on DVD I will give it another try, because I like a film that has a new idea and does something new. I just am not sure what it is that it does. I rate REVOLVER a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. Be warned. There is a very good chance your mileage will vary. [-mrl]
CHILDREN OF DUNE by Frank Herbert (copyright 1976, Berkley Putnam, SFBC edition, 410 pp) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
As I mentioned when I started reviewing the books in the "Dune" series, I was rereading them because I wanted to have the entire saga fresh in my mind when the "final" (in quotes because you never know what will happen) books in the story come out this year and next. But it has turned into much more than that. It has turned into a rediscovery of the story and a resetting of my thoughts about these original books.
Those of you who read these reviews will remember my rereading of Arthur C. Clarke's CHILDHOOD'S END and my subsequent disappointment with the facts that the book not only didn't hold up well over the years but wasn't as good as I remembered it. I have discovered that the reverse is true of CHILDREN OF DUNE. Not only does it hold up well, but now that I read it as an adult I find that I understand it and appreciate it more than I did back when I read it nearly thirty years ago.
CHILDREN OF DUNE logically completes the original "Dune" Trilogy. I honestly don't know if Frank Herbert had intended to write a trilogy when he wrote DUNE. However, the three books do constitute a powerful story about ecology, religion, politics, and power.
Paul Atreides, blind, walked into the desert at the end of Dune Messiah, presumably never to be seen again. His sister Alia is now Regent of the Empire, holding down the fort until Paul's twin children, Leto II and Ghanima come of age. Alia is married to the ghola Duncan Idaho, and she has destroyed what Paul has built. The Lady Jessica, Paul and Alia's mother and grandmother to the twins, comes to Dune. Alia fears that the Bene Gesserit plot against her, and wants Jessica killed. The twins realize that more than that is at stake, and concoct a plot of their own to overthrow Alia, who is Abomination--a preborn that has been possessed by one of the people who reside within her--in this case, it's the evil Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. Farad'n, who is the son of Jessica's sister and who lives on Salusa Secundus, is being prepared by her mother to take back the throne. Irulan is here too--she has sworn to watch over the twins until their time comes. And there is the mysterious and enigmatic Preacher, come out of the desert to be a wild card in all the goings-on.
It seems that everyone has a plan for the twins, but nobody bothers to ask them what they want. As you might expect, they have their own idea --which involves faking Leto's death so as to facilitate Leto enabling the human race to embark upon the Golden Path, the vision of the future that will save humanity. It is a vision which Paul saw and was afraid of, but Leto has no such fear. He begins by undergoing a physical transformation that will change the course of history.
CHILDREN OF DUNE blends the themes of ecology and political intrigue into a highly effective story that is a fitting conclusion to these three books. It is not, however, without its flaws. The pacing seems a bit off now and again--I kept wondering when Herbert would get on with it. And the book is heavily slanted to the side of Leto. This may be CHILDREN OF DUNE, but it ought to have been entitled "Leto of Dune with a Dash of Ghanima Thrown In". I understand that the focus needed to be on Leto, but I think that Ghanima got the short end of the stick. All in all, it was much better than I remembered.
After the usual one book break, I'll return with a review of GOD EMPEROR OF DUNE. [-jak]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
DAYS OF INFAMY by Harry Turtledove (ISBN 0-451-21307-9) is an alternate history set in a timeline where Japan does not just bomb Pearl Harbor--it invades and occupies Hawai'i. It is the first of a two-book series and seems at times padded out, sometimes unfortunately. For example, it is not entirely clear who the narrator is who muses about Hawai'i, "You admire the turquoise sky and the sapphire sea and the emerald land. Strange tropical birds call in the trees. You savor the perfect weather. . . . You want to be a beachcomber and spend the rest of your days there. If you find a slightly brown-skinned but beautiful and willing wahine to spend them there with you, so much the better." One assumes it is a white male of the era (no one today would say "slightly brown-skinned but beautiful"), but it is clear that the audience the narrator is writing for does not include women. I would not say that I am offended by this, but I do find it a bit off-putting.
END OF THE BEGINNING by Harry Turtledove (ISBN 0-451-21668-7) is the conclusion of the story. (In Britain, this probably would have been one large volume, but here it is split in two, with the result that the entire story--if entire it is, costs the reader over $50. The story itself is interesting but Turtledove's writing is so predictable, at least across his various "alternate America wars" books that I find it impossible for me to read any more. And his turn of the wrong phrase seems consistent--on page four, he has a paragraph that says, "Genda had had his first birthday in 1905. Like any of his countrymen, though, he knew what the Russo-Japanese War meant. It was the first modern war in which people of color beat whites." From complete political incorrectness in the first book to an overdose in the second is quite a swing, yet Turtledove hits both extremes. (This is all too common in his works. In RULED BRITANNIA, he has refers to a "dentist" 150 years before that word was invented.)
After a while, all of Turtledove's series seem the same --pick a war the United States was involved in, create as many characters as needed to fill an x-volume series, write their stories with way more description than is needed, and shuffle them together. I sometimes feel he could take the characters from one series and shuffle them into another with no problem. (RULED BRITANNIA does not fit into this mold, by the way, though it has its flaws as well.) I still like his shorter works, but he seems to have become someone who writes something good/successful and then just keep writing it over and over, until everything original or interesting has been squeezed out of it.
"In the Rialto" by Connie Willis was nominated for a Hugo Award for 1989, and everyone talked about how the problems and situations at her "International Congress of Quantum Physicists Annual Meeting" were so like science fiction conventions. But no one seems to have commented on how similar the underlying ideas are to a book from 1974, THE FUTUROLOGICAL CONGRESS by Stanislaw Lem (translated by Michael Kandel, ISBN 0-156-34040-2). One can argue, I suppose, that the notion of a conference where things go very strangely is not an unusual one--BORGES AND THE ETERNAL ORANGUTANS (reviewed in the 01/20/06 issue) is set at a conference, for example. But the use of the word "Congress" reinforces my notion that Willis had read THE FUTUROLOGICAL CONGRESS at some point before writing her story.
As proof that everything fits together, the previous week our other discussion group read the Book of Job, and this week the science fiction group read THE FUTUROLOGICAL CONGRESS, which refers to the Book of Job. It also has connections to the Philip K. Dick works we have been reading, such as when Lem has one of his characters say, "A dream will always triumph over reality, once it is given the chance."
It is, however, a translator's nightmare. I do not have the original Polish, but just the last ten lines on page 84 has the following words in English: locomotors, cyberserkers, electrolechers, succubuts, incubators, polypanderoids, multiple android procurers, high-frequency illicitation solicitrons, osculo-oscilloscopes, synthecs, gyroflies, automites, army ants, and submachine! Hats off to Michael Kandel (who has translated a lot of Lem's works).
I also love the Lem's inclusion of the quote from some (unidentified and possibly fictional) French philosopher: "It is not enough that we are happy--others must be miserable."
Arthur C. Clarke, in the early 1950s in CHILDHOOD'S END, thought that over five hundred hours of radio and television every day was an enormous number (it's the equivalent of about twenty full- time channels). Here Lem (in 1971) uses forty channels of television as an over-whelming number of choices.
Published in 1925, THE GREATEST BOOK IN THE WORLD by A. Edward Newton is so old that not only does it not have an ISBN, but the copy I got on inter-library loan has one of those old octagonal spine labels with the call number hand-lettered by fountain pen. To a book collector, this book would be scorned--worn, scuffed, dirty, and full of library stamps or stickers. However, I'm just interested in the contents. (Actually, the fact that the book is not in pristine condition is a bit of a plus--I'm not afraid to read it.) Newton is known as a writer of essays about books, but he writes about more than just books, although it is always something connected with words. While his chapter on the Old Vic did not make me want to rush out to re-read (or even re-watch) Shakespeare, his comments on Gilbert & Sullivan did make me want to hear their operas again. Newton was in his time a well-known author of works about books, and he is still recommended by book collectors when asked who to read about books. Unfortunately, he is pretty much out of print. Luckily one of the libraries in our system has many of his books.
Of particular interest to science fiction readers would be Newton's long chapter "Skinner Street News", wherein he recounts the story of William Godwin; Mary Wollstonecraft (Godwin); her two daughters (half-sisters) Fanny Imlay and Mary; the second Mrs. Godwin; *her* daughter Mary Jane Clairmont (also known as Jane, but calling herself Claire); Percy Bysshe Shelley; Harriet Westbrook (Shelley); and Lord Byron. The fact that three major characters in this drama are named "Mary" is certainly confusing. But the important one from a literary standpoint is Mary Wollstonecraft's daughter, who was eventually to become Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley, to write FRANKENSTEIN, and to become the Mother of Science Fiction. Newton mentions FRANKENSTEIN, and says that when the name was used to refer to the German army, this had "such sinister meaning that few of us stopped to remember that Frankenstein was the creator of the demon and not the name of the monster." (Note that this was before the Universal "Frankenstein" movies, so one cannot say that they were what popularized the term. However, he also says of Mary Shelley's literary work that it was "of no great literary value." This, of course, depends on one's definitions, but FRANKENSTEIN has certainly had both staying power and literary effect, and has become part of the culture in a way that her more literary husband's work has not.
And of interest to alternate history fans are Newton's musings on Prince Henry, the eldest son of King James I of England. He was a book-collector (hence in Newton's field of interest) and much beloved of the people. However, he died (probably of typhoid fever) in 1612, leaving his brother Charles as heir to the throne. This paved the way for Newton to write, "Let us close our eyes to the world around us for a moment and speculate as to what would have happened had Prince Henry lived to come to the throne instead of his brother, Charles First. Let us assume . . . that he had sense enough to keep his head upon his shoulders and his crown upon his head. There would certainly have been no Cromwell, no stupid and cowardly James the Second, no four German Georges, perhaps no George Washington. Is it too much to say that no death in modern history has so influenced and changed the course of the whole world?" [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Fools admire, but men of sense approve. -- Alexander Pope
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